Priorities: Education, CPS, Public safety
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Friday released her proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins July 1. The spending plan represents an increase of more than 4 percent over the current budget year.
The largest spending increase is $110 million for education, both K-12 and universities. $40 million of that is in preparation for the new "Common Core" education standards that will take effect in the fall 2014. The Legislature has already adopted the new standards; the budget simply funds that implementation. Another $20 million will pay for new technology required to implement new statewide tests.
The governor's budget also appropriates $3.6 million to add 200 armed school resource officers to schools around the state. The catch is that the expenditure would cover only half the cost for the new SROs; school districts would be on the hook to cover the remaining 50%.
Brewer proposes a large spending increase for Child Protective Services to accommodate a huge increase in caseload over the last several years and a high turnover rate among CPS caseworkers. The spending plan calls for hiring 50 new CPS caseworkers as soon as possible, and 150 more in the next fiscal year.
Another focus of the governor's budget is the expansion in Medicaid eligibility that she announced in her State of the State speech on Monday. However, relatively little of the cost of that expansion will come out of the state's general fund. Budget director John Arnold said that the federal government will cover 100% of the cost of expanding eligibility, and 85% of the cost of lifting the state's current enrollment freeze for childless adults.
Arnold said the expansion of AHCCCS, Arizona's Medicaid program, is pretty much a must, since all of the states surrounding Arizona are likewise expanding their Medicaid programs under the federal Affordable Care Act. Arnold says it's a matter of being able to compete with those states for businesses and residents.
Brewer's budget also contains money to continue her policy of offering pay raises of up to 5% to state employees who agree to give up their union job protections and become "at will" employees. Workers who choose to retain those job protections will not be eligible for pay raises.
Republican Senate President Andy Biggs and Republican House Speaker Andy Tobin released a statement in response to the governor's budget plan, hinting that some of her proposals may face opposition in the legislature. The statement touted the legislature's success in shrinking government, hinting that downsizing will continue to be a priority: "We have reduced the size of government while increasing spending in critical areas such as education, funding for the seriously mentally ill and restoration of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)... Our hope is that the final enacted budget will replicate the success we have implemented thus far. There is clear evidence that the conservative approach to state funding is the proper way to bring our state back to full economic recovery."
The Republican leaders' statement did not mention the governor's plan to expand AHCCCS funding, while a statement from Democratic leaders did.
Senate minority leader Leah Landrum Taylor said, "The governor is doing the right thing by proposing we expand Medicaid. It's a smart business decision that's good for our state's economy and good for the people of Arizona. We hope that same logic would be applied toward putting education on a path for success."
Meanwhile, House minority leader Chad Campbell said "The governor's budget is a good starting point. We appear to have a foundation for a plan that could bring legislators from both parties together to finally enact a common-sense budget for Arizona. I applaud the governor for her proposal to secure Arizona's fair share of federal dollars through Medicaid expansion."